A drawing room comedy set in the late 21st Century: That's "An Invitation Out", a new play by Shualee Cook at Mustard Seed Theatre. It's about virtual reality and real reality, the "out" of the title, and the widening gap between them.
Cook makes no secret of her admiration for Oscar Wilde, the emperor of bon mots, and the play clearly shows Wildean influence. Don't, of course, expect an evening free of defiantly vigorous over-acting. That's part of the fun.
Our hero, Wridget, played by Bob Thibaut, is a very successful avatar designer ("so gifted with placing those freckles"). He's planning on proposing to Flutterbye, the world's most popular blogger - but he wants a child, and that can't be done in virtual reality, only Out. This could create a problem. There are no bodily fluids in virtual reality. So they'd have to go offline for a while, at least.
Wridget and his sister Buttercup, Julie Venegoni, are the most realistic characters of the assemblage. Buttercup lives Out, and has had a child with her husband FlyByNite, Daniel Lanier - it's the new niece that has Wridget thinking the unthinkable and making the leap to Out. But Flutterbye, Laura Ernst, has her own agenda, and it's her business - literally, as she tweets and posts constantly to her millions of followers. Actually, it's the house robot that actually does it at her command, but that's niggling.
The leads in the play are all strong and doing worthwhile work. But it's the secondary roles that often keep us leaning forward in our seats. Among them are Alicia Reve Like, playing Wridget and Buttercup's Aunt Scandalicious. Witty, and as sharply catty as a purebred Persian, with a walk, to carry the feline comparison farther, that belongs on a catwalk, Reve is purely a piece of work. Even when she's not speaking, she's hard to take your eyes off. And then the Reverend Variety.Org, Richard Strelinger, a catalog in himself of clergy types. (I kept thinking about Shakin' Sammy, the Protestant chaplain in M.A.S.H. - the book, of course.)
Serious credit to the costume designer Beth Ashby, bringing on one amazing outfit after another - Flutterbye reminds me of those Fifties decorative dolls with immense skirts costumed to sit on beds, for instance, and the Rev wears a yarmulke with the Batman design on it and a stole with multiple religious symbols from around the galaxy on it. He carries a light saber for a cane, not that it's discussed. Mark Wilson's set design puts the drawing room in a whole new world. And Michael Sullivan's lights are particularly important here, adding to drama and depth.
The script is full of bon mots and would-be bon mots, and gives us something to think about in terms of identities both online and off. It would benefit from considerable tightening, dragging at times in both the first and second act. Still, there's much worthwhile in this show.
An Invitation Out
through May 3
Mustard Seed Theatre
Fine Arts Theatre
6800 Wydown Blvd., Clayton